Funky activists calling for a restored Japan-Korea relationship. (c) Atypical Traveler
As the 11th most expensive city in the world, it does seem like one would need to sell half a kidney to afford a trip to this place. But fear not, friends, I am speaking as a survivor of a 9-day Korea trip (including a side-trip to Daegu) with only 500USD (25,000Php) on my pocket. And if I can do it, so can you!
Without further ado, here's a basic Seoul-vival Guide I came up with to help budget travelers like moi.
5 Survival Must-haves
T-money Card. This is the card that will keep you alive. T-money can be used all over South Korea (for bus and subway payments) and can also act as a debit card when purchasing items at a convenience store. Purchase one on a GS25 convenience store at the airport. The card costs around 3,500-4,000KRW. After which, you can reload the card anytime. In my experience, I used up 75,000KRW for my 9-days stay (and that’s because I used the card mostly to buy food in convenience stores).
Wifi prepaid card or pocket wifi. Both are available at the airport. The wifi prepaid card can be purchased at GS25. It works like the usual mobile phone card except that it allows you to connect to South Korea’s public wifi system. On the other hand, you can ask the information receptionist for a pocket wifi. You can use it while you are in Korea but you have to return it and pay for the amount you have consumed. For solo travelers, I recommend the prepaid card. 8,000-9,000KRW is enough for 7 days of unlimited internet. Wifi is available everywhere in Korea (even on subways!) except on the deeper areas of the city parks.
Subway app. Available both on Apple Store and GooglePlay, Subway or지하철 is a must-have app. Seoul’s subway system is rather complex and this app is your best bet in understanding it. The app includes train schedules and has other features such as informing the user of the fastest route or which route has the shortest number of stops. The app is available in English and Korean.
Pair of walking shoes. Seoul is best discovered on foot. More than that, walking is something that you cannot really avoid here. For one, tunnels connecting subway stations can be veeeeery far from each other. You’ll need a good pair of shoes to keep your feet a-okay.
Water bottle. Or any water container. As there would be a lot of walking, expect that you’ll be rather tired at some point during the day. Drinking water is available on convenience stores but having your own supply is more economical.
What to do?
Tour the city on your own or avail of special tours (e.g. DMZ tours, Royal Palace Tour, Gyeongbukgong Tour).
Autumn foliage at Samcheong-ro going to Samcheong Park (c) Atypical Traveler
Where to stay?
Hongdae. Hongdae district surrounds Hongik Daehakyo (Hongik University). It is also considered as the home of Seoul’s indie culture. As a ‘university district’, basically everything here is cheap. Many guesthouses and hostels populate Hongdae and dormitory rooms are usually priced at 22,000KRW per person/night. Apart from this, Hongdae Station is also a part of the Airport Railroad Express (AREX) line. Hence, it is most accessible to tourists arriving from Incheon Airport.
Recommended Guesthouses: Hongdae Guesthouse, Seoulwise, ZZIP Guesthouse, Come Inn Korea, Cozzzy Guesthouse
If you are the adventurous kind, try the jimjilbang. Hehe. I haven't tried this yet so I can't really say a lot about it except that jimjilbangs are 24-hour spas. Budget travelers can opt to sleep (preferably for one night) at a jimjilbang because it is cheaper than hotels and guesthouses. The kicker is that you have to sleep on the heated-floor without pillows. But you are provided blankets, nonetheless.
One of the many alleys in Myeongdong (c) Atypical Traveler
Where to go?
Seoul is a pretty place and any part of it is considered a ‘destination’. You’ll always find something that will pique your interest wherever you go. Nonetheless, here are the usual places people visit:
- Popular nightspots (bars, restaurants, street parties): Itaewon, Myeongdong, Hongdae, Gangnam
- Sceneries (e.g. parks, aesthetically pleasing neighborhoods, etc.): Nami Island, Insadong, Samcheongdong, Bukchon, Seoul Forest, Samcheong Park, Cheonggyecheon Stream near Seoul City Hall, Garosu-gil
- Landmarks: Gwanghwamun Square, Namsan Tower, Gyeongbukgong Palace, Banpo Bridge (at night)
- Food Hubs (restaurants, street food, etc.): Hongdae, Itaewon
- Shopping Areas: Myeongdong, Hongdae, Dongdaemun, Garosu-gil, subway stations
Grilling dak bulgogi in Itaewon (c) Atypical Traveler
Where and what to eat?
Street food. You can find Korean street food practically everywhere in Hongdae. Street food stalls usually prop open at night. Prices usually range from 3,000KRW to 7,000KRW. Myeongdong is another street food hotspot. Try everything if you must but don't miss out on popular Korean street foods like tteokbokki, odeng, twigim, grilled squid/octopus, hotteok, gyeran ppang (must try!), and cup chicken. :D
Though not as plenty as they are in the evenings, there are open street food stalls during the day too. I suggest trying ddak barbecue (chicken barbecue) in Samcheongdong for 3,000KRW only! ;A;
Restaurants. Restaurant food can be rather costly if you are eating alone. This is for the fact that they are served in large amounts and are usually for sharing. The relatively cheap restaurants I’ve been to are in Hongdae (as always) and Itaewon. I remember eating in this Korean beef resto in Hongdae (Dally So Restaurant) which serves 1.2kg of sogogi (beef) for 39,000KRW. HAHA. Food is rather expensive, the price for the cheapest item starts at 7,000KRW.
Koreans are also very fond of their fried chicken (especially when partnered with beer). Try chimaek (chicken and beer) on chicken restaurants near Gwanghwamun.
If you’re going to Nami Island, try their famous ddakgalbi (grilled chicken). The entrance to Nami from Gapyeong is swarmed by ddakgalbi stores that offer a large plate of ddakgalbi for as low as 12,000KRW.
Convenience Stores. CU and GS25 made my 25,000Php-for-9days-in-Korea trip possible. I got by with my daily sustenance of banana milk and joomukbap (Korean onigiri) for 3,000KRW. Haha. There are also 7-11 and Family Mart stores around.
So, there. Basic survival tips. Hehe. If you need in-depth information of the places you wish to visit, drop by the official tourism site of Korea here.